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How F1 fuels are made
Posted By: James Allen  |  13 May 2011   |  1:26 pm GMT  |  42 comments

Here is something a bit different. There are two fundamentals without which F1 cars don’t run; tyres and fuel. There is a lot of talk at the moment about tyres, but not so much about fuels.

Always keen to get closer to the details of how the sport works, I was given a chance recently to try my hand at blending F1 fuel on a visit to the Shell motorsport laboratory in Cheshire. It’s here that they blend the V Power racing fuel Ferrari use in F1.

I knew that the rules were quite strict in terms of creating a footprint for the fuel which, once its been registered with the FIA at the start of the year, has to be exactly the same in terms of additives at every Grand Prix. In the early 1990s, when I started, the fuel makers used to chuck in all kinds of additives which gave up to 100hp extra and I remember the exhaust fumes would literally reduce you to tears. It’s all more controlled now, but there are still things you can do. Saving weight, for example, is one of them.

Last year they managed to get the weight of a fuel load for a GP down, which has a carry-over in lap time across the whole Grand Prix, as it’s weight you don’t have to carry.

For the race alone an F1 car uses 200 litres. The new biofuel meant that they made a saving of 1%, which might not sound like much, but the weight saving adds up to 2.5 seconds off the race time for the Ferrari drivers.


But what I hadn’t realised is how you can play around with different levels of the additives and trade off power against heat generation, density and other parametres. If you go too much one way the power output falls, go too far the other way and the temperatures get out of control.

We got to have a go at trying to mix the ideal fuel based on the 2010 fuel regs, which are pretty much the same this year. In the picture you can see the various additives and the maximum line (in red on the right), which you cannot cross as it is the FIA’s maximum allowable amount of that particular additive. As you can see from this picture we got to 720hp with the blend we had but we obviously hadn’t hit the right formula as the maximum achievable with those additives is 750hp.

I did a video of it, showing how the technicians make a blend. Hope you like it.

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42 Comments
  1. the_rh1no says:

    Cool article. I always imagined that fuel had q

  2. the_rh1no says:

    Cool article. I always imagined that fuel had quite an effect on the performance of the car, but I didn’t know in what way or by how much!

    V. Interesting! Sounds like you had a fun day.

  3. Tokyo Nambu says:

    Parameters. Even in British English.

  4. Adam Taylor says:

    This article alone is one of the reasons why I love this web site. So many parts of F1 are left unexplained, this site covers them all.

    1. F1 fan says:

      It was only short but one of his best tbf. Never thought about fuel. Why would I?

  5. Kristiane says:

    Yes I like it =)
    Very informative as usual, allow us to have an insight into the stuff that aren’t normally opened to public.

  6. Scott E says:

    Good Stuff James interesting article.

  7. jonrob says:

    Very interesting thanks James.
    I presume the biofuel you were using was ethanol based since it lowered the specific gravity or density of the mix.
    I used to run my Xantia on used veg oil (it’s a diesel) which is cleaner and less stressful to the engine. (providing you have Bosch not Lucas/CAV kit) Sadly though the big boys have moved in and I cant buy it any more, all supplies are grabbed to be made into bio-diesel.

    So when in the year is your fuel mix fixed? Can it be done so that your new design front splitter exhaust exit system is prevented from burning the plank?

  8. ikkida says:

    Wow James!!! Brilliant… Seeing stuff like this for the first time. I am totally glued to your site and it is giving me good returns :) Good job.

  9. TM says:

    At one stage in the 90s I think, didn’t the fuel have to available at the pumps to be used in F1? Maybe I dreamt that.

  10. CNSZU says:

    Thanks for the video, but I’m still not any more knowledgeable about F1 fuels. It simply created a million questions but no answers. How about being a little more specific? What things do you mix, and what are the effects of mixing more of one thing and less of another? How about going through an example to show how to create a fuel with a particular strength in a certain area? What process do the scientists use? What are their goals? How do they achieve them? How do they create the ultimate fuel? What do they consider to be the ultimate fuel? How do they improve the fuel year after year? How often do the FIA regulations change and how? There are so many interesting questions to ask, but none of them are explained. Is it secret?

    1. James Allen says:

      I’ll come onto that. This is part one of a learning experience.

      1. shortshighted says:

        Congratulations. Really outstanding investigative work, James. It helps us viewers understand F1 better. I wonder if there is similar restriction on the blending of engine oil.

      2. James Allen says:

        I’m going to look into the oil, actually. I want to know how it gets moved around with all the forces as the car goes through changes of direction

    2. john g says:

      the ultimate goal is normally more power! you play around with a load of different components to find which works and still gives you a formulation within the specs. for example, you have a limit on maximum aromatics, olefins, minimum bio content, you have to meet a minimum octane, and you have to make sure at least 30% of your fuel is composed of fuel components that are in there at less than 5% (this makes the fuel look more like normal gasoline and avoids single or few component fuels).

      each fuel company works together with an engine supplier to make a bespoke fuel that works best for that particular engine, and every little change on the engine affects the way it uses the fuel which requires a new formulation – and the engines are quite different – for example if you put the shell fuel into a mercedes, it will perform worse than it would on the exxon-mobil fuel and vice-versa. oh, and there is no ultimate fuel, it’s a process of continuous evolution (as long as the engine keeps developing)

  11. Bill Day says:

    I recall walking through the paddock on race day at the Canadian GP in 1970 or so. We walked up to the crowd standing around an orange MacLaren (probably Denis Hulme’s). Everyone was watching a mechanic fill the tank from a filling-station type pump. “What kind of gas do you use,” I asked. “Oh, reg’lar ‘undred octane!” was the reply.

    I was 12, and thrilled as could be.

  12. cyanide says:

    Great article. I’ve always been a lurker on your blog.

    Anyways, can you confirm if the FIA Max RON is 110 or 100? I can read the FIA Max MON to be 100. I’m surprised it’s so low. I use 118 RON leaded fuel in my own dragster.

    What fuel do they use? Is it gasoline or alcohol or a mixture? Is it leaded or unleaded?

    1. James Allen says:

      Errr…unleaded, for sure. Gasoline. As for the rest go to http://www.fia.com and check out the Formula 1 technical regulations, it’s all in there

    2. john g says:

      there is no max octane, only a minimum. you don’t really need a high octane fuel as the time period for combustion is so short that knock isn’t so much of an issue. all F1 is unleaded, and it’s gasoline with 5.75% of bio content (typically bio ethanol although shell have some funky stuff) but with a maximum of 3.7% oxygen by weight

  13. sam w says:

    As I understood it all F1 fuels were brewed by the same bloke/company on a trading estate somewhere in Britain and the fuel companies just stick their name on them… though I assume they must do the research to produce them????

  14. camp6ell says:

    they use excel to figure it out? high tech!

  15. Phil R says:

    Hi James

    Great article, the 100BHP fuels of the early 90′s is astonishing, were these banned in ’94 after the Imola tragedies?

    Did Shell say if the current regulations are conducive to the development of current road car biofuels?

  16. Darren says:

    Agip Jungle Juice, anyone remember that?

    1. James Allen says:

      Only too painfully!! In Prost and Mansell’s Ferrari. It was horrible.

  17. Chris Orr says:

    Good article.

    I am of the personal opinion that there should be one fuel supplier to all the teams, but this should be put up for tender ever 2 or 3 years like the tyre contract.

    The supplier should aim to make an economic formula with low emissions, and a certain percentage bio fuel or other such innovative criteria.

    Or maybe two-three suppliers like who compete like the bridgestone michelin tyre wars.

  18. Davexxx says:

    Fascinating stuff! I had no idea they could actually play with the mix – I assumed all F1 fuel was ‘fixed’ (presumably by FIA limits) and was the same for everyone! So, a great thought-provoking article. It raises the question (in my cynical mind) how they police it – i.e. (a) how can the FIA be sure that what is made as agreed at the manufacturer, IS what actually arrives at the track (ie no crafty additives added along the way in the back of the lorry!), and (b) what’s to stop them adding something to the fuel in their garage at the track?
    I guess the answer is that the FIA chemically test the fuel after a race – so then, do they check the contents of ALL 24 cars?? Blimey what a boring job!

    1. James Allen says:

      They do tests of fuel samples and fuel supplier has a mobile laboratory doing its own tests at the track to make sure that it will meet the guidlelines

    2. john g says:

      each fuel that is made is submitted for loads of testing at an FIA approved lab before it can be used at a race – the FIA also take a fingerprint of this submitted fuel. then at the track, the FIA take samples from teh cars and rigs to make sure the fingerprint matches and the fuel is the same as that approved.

      the specification of the fuel is fixed but there are upper and lower limits you can play around with

  19. Martin says:

    Hi James,

    Do you have any idea whether all the teams use the fuel the team is sponsored by? For example, Mercedes would have done a lot of work with Mobil in developing the fuel and oil for McLaren and now Petronas is a title sponsor.

    Red Bull and Renault were both sponsored by Total in 2010 (I haven’t checked this year), so they are probably running the same specification.

    The aims for the fuel this year might be a bit different too, with the exhaust blown diffusers wanting as much high density gas flowing over them. Adrian Newey telling the fuel guys to turn down the power to get more downforce might be a step too far.

    Also James, a couple of things for you to look into with fuels as you get time to ask questions:

    1: What is the maximum torque the engines produce?
    2: Do fuels that produce the maximum torque differ from those that produce the maximum power? Basically what this question is driving at is the combustion dynamics. At maximum revs, the power stroke is lasting 0.0008333 seconds. Some fuels may have more energy, but take longer to release it than others.
    3: Do teams look for power or the area under the torque curve? In a very gross generalisaton, power gives top speed, while torque gives acceleration. A bias towards torque might be more useful in this era of DRS.

    BTW, power is a derived quantity – in a sense it doesn’t exist. It is calculated from the measured torque.

    Thanks,

    Martin

    1. James Allen says:

      Wow, interesting questions. I’ll ask them next time I see the technicians. Thanks

    2. Rabz says:

      In the words of a one Mr Murray Walker, Thats Fantastic!

  20. mtb says:

    Interesting article James, thanks.

  21. Ohm says:

    I thought a single fuel supplier are used with all the teams! Do teams buy fuel like they buy engines? How many suppliers are there?

    Thanks James!

  22. Stu burton says:

    Great insight, I read an article in f1 racing magazine about the same lab- I live in Chester nearby so it’s fascinating and exciting to know I live so close to such a crucial part if formula1. Do you know if they arrange public tours at all? Hopefully more videos like this james- shows a great behind the scenes insight, thank you

  23. Geckozr says:

    That really is interesting, and it brings the same type of questions for all the lubricants :
    Whats are the components of motor oil ? Is there a formula that can bring a significant advantage in the cooling, lubricating, etc… ?
    And there is lots of different oils in a car :
    Motor oil, gearbox oil, differentials oil, etc…

    And there are also questions about lubricating bearings… Because they need lubricant also…
    (we can find them on driveshafts, suspensions, etc…)

    Is there any coating inside the engine, gearbox, bearings…

    Do each teams developps independtly (from each other, and / or manufacturers) all theses chemicals formulas ?

  24. Pawel says:

    I had no idea the weight could be limited with fuel.

    How many octanes has got F1 fuel?
    Shell V-Power available in Poland has 100.

  25. Jonathan Lodge says:

    I can remember a few years ago there was a “game” available online where you could choose your own fuel mix and find out what happened. It was all about finding the maximum power by changing the blend of the permittable additives. The thinking at the time was that the teams would use a slightly different blend at each track.

    This was about reducing the temperature inducing additives at tracks known to be hard on engines. I seem to recall that some additives encouraged torque needed for acceleration out of low speed corners. As always the final mix is a compromise – and as some engines run hotter than others (or are more liable to overheat) not all teams would choose the same blends.

    No doubt since that time the blends have been varied to suit the need for longer life engines. I wonder if they use different blends according to the age of an engine?

    Thinking about it is this one of the ways Red Bull achieve their qualifying? – a specific qualifying blend that would cause too much damage over a a race distance.

  26. Kieran says:

    Just to echo what everyone else has said – it’s this reason, the detail into which you go, which makes this website so great.

    Thanks James.

  27. Tyler says:

    Very cool James, love this kind of technical stuff!

    THIS is what makes F1 interesting….NOT the Luca/FOTA/Bernie/CVC soap opera.

    1. James Allen says:

      Well it all makes the sport go around, tech, sport, politics, the whole thing!

  28. Kenny says:

    Another great article James. Shame I won’t be going any deeper into this as it’s a bit more to do with chemical engineering and I’m studying mechanical right now!
    Albeit what I do remember from Higher Chemistry is that biofuels have a couple of critical benefits for the engine. 1 of them is it that the mixture dissolves residual compounds very easily and therefore helps keep the engine cleaner. This in turn allows the engine to be even more efficient so the old saying of a cleaner engine, more efficiency.
    Presumably this will help the reliability of the engine quite significantly if it’s cleaner so this was probably one of the many things the teams found a way to help make the engines last so long nowadays.

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